Dog advocates disagree about whether Vick would be a good owner

Michael Vick says he has a hard time explaining to his little girls why they can't have a dog.

He wishes they could have one, and he wants one himself.

"I would love to get another dog in the future," Vick told a Website called theGrio in an article published Wednesday. "I think it would be a big step for me in the rehabilitation process. I think just to have a pet in my household and to show people that I genuinely care, and my love, and my passion for animals."

The convicted dogfighter and former Falcons quarterback was released from prison last year. He returned to football and has been enjoying stunning success with the Philadelphia Eagles.

He also has been touring schools across the country, telling children that he is reformed and that dogfighting is bad. But he is still living under a court-ordered ban on dog ownership.

Vick has critics who believe the ban should be permanent, but others say he can be a responsible pet owner.

"I have been around him a lot, and feel confident that he would do a good job as a pet owner," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, told the AJC Wednesday.

Pacelle, who has toured schools with Vick, said the football player has committed to speaking publicly against dogfighting for the rest of his life.

Vick pleaded guilty in 2007 for his role in a dogfighting operation called Bad Newz Kennels. That December, a federal judge in Virginia sentenced him to 23 months in prison. U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson also ordered him to serve three years' probation during which he could not buy, sell or own dogs.

Vick said in his interview with theGrio that his daughters miss having a dog, and that the hardest thing for him is "telling them that we can't have one because of my actions."

Despite Vicks' public expressions of contrition, some believe his actions merit a lifetime ban on dog ownership.

"Just as convicted pedophiles aren’t allowed free access to children, anyone who is responsible for hanging, electrocuting, or shooting dogs and who causes them to suffer in other unimaginable ways should never again be allowed access to dogs," Lisa Lange, vice president of the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told the AJC. "All things considered, it is a very small price to pay, especially compared to the suffering endured by the dogs who were abused and killed in the Bad Newz Kennels."

Pacelle said he understands why people would never want to see Vick own another dog. "What he did was awful, and a lot of people haven't been able to get past that," he said.

But he said he believes Vick is earnest when he says he is a changed man.

Vick was exposed to dogfighting from age 7 or 8 and as a child probably thought it was normal, Pacelle said, adding that he believes Vick's recent exposure to people who believe otherwise has influenced him. He said Vick should be embraced as a valuable ally for animals in a culture that seems conflicted about them.

America loves its pets, but also condones hunting animals, raising them for meat and using them in experiments and tests, Pacelle noted. "You get a lot of mixed signals from our society about this."

That may explain how Vick was able to "rationalize" his cruelty, Pacelle said, but he added that it does not excuse it: "He knew it was illegal; he knew it was wrong."